Dostoyevsky and Internet Outrage

Dostoyevsky’s novella “The Double” and several of his short stories examine a narcissistic and shame-based personality schema that is still in evidence, maybe even in increasing prominence, in the modern world as much as in the mid-1800’s. The rigid social structures and bureaucracies of Imperial Russia have been replaced by the strict impression management of social media, but the emotions remain the same. Shame is the emotion of social failure, and a relentless self-obsession that relies on examination of others fuels that core emotion. Shame is to be guarded against at all cost, people must succeed, especially in relation to others, while also concealing themselves from negative exposure.

The end of “The Double” exposes the narrator to his tremendous social failure, but it is also a failure related to his sense of enititlement. This type of emotional transaction, the transmission of outrage from the observer to the subject, where it’s transformed into shame, is the basic emotional currency of the Internet. Emotion is an easily received thrill. Just as the youngest generation is increasingly seeking “experiences” over material goods, so are we all seeking emotional highs and lows through media. The problem with this is that it undermines reason and sustained action. Interacting with other people this way is a precursor for nihilism, and phenomena like the popularity of Donald Trump can be directly tied to this social disease of sensation seeking.

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